I was always the kid who was hiding in the bathroom in order to get a few minutes of precious alone time to read whatever book I was into at the moment (likely something from the Sweet Valley Twins). The older I’ve gotten, the more I realized I’m a visual learner, not an aural, so podcasts and audiobooks are not how I thought I’d be spending my time. The pandemic has adjusted a lot of things in life, though, and I have fluctuated between several different podcasts to help me navigate my thoughts and feelings about the changing world and my place in it.
Listening to something while tidying up my house, weeding my vegetable garden, or taking a walk has been instrumental to my survival tactics this year. Pairing listening with doing something physical has a way of pulling me away from my own despair while also letting me learn and grow in a way that doing the dishes doesn’t. The podcasts helped me connect to a larger world outside of myself and the things going on in my four walls. If nothing else, they’ve given me room and space to breathe and remember to take it one day at a time.
I like to listen to a range of genres because I’m a fan of fitting things to your mood (i.e. outfits, food, activities). As a newbie, I had no idea where to start, so I began with some recommendations from friends. This list is by no means comprehensive, but here are some of my faves for exploring new topics and perspectives.
For when you are looking to laugh, but also feel challenged.
OK, I know I’m super late to this podcast because they have been around for years and, in fact, are not making new episodes. But there is a backlog of five seasons to listen to, and the hosts are hilarious: two funny Black women, friends for years, inviting you into their mischief and mayhem.
For when you need to laugh to keep from crying at the news.
A round table of comics making you laugh at the absurdity of the week’s headlines and the wilder stories can certainly help anyone listening to the news these days. Before the pandemic, though, I always waited for a long drive to listen to a bunch of episodes in a row which is always a bit strange since it’s topical to the week’s headlines. Now, since it’s impossible to get away from the news, at least Peter Sagal is around to help me laugh at it. I love their rotation of comedians and guests. They make me feel like I might be able to make it through 2020 after all.
For when you are looking to learn and discover how to get involved with social justice.
I’m a sucker for social justice with a side of humanity. Alicia Garza, the incredible co-founder of Black Lives Matter, hangs out with her friends and colleagues who are heading up different non-profits. They laugh, they talk about crushes, they talk about issues. It’s like your best hangout session with your friends, and you learn a ton along the way. It helped broaden my perspective about how I can affect change in my own little corner.
For when you want to dig in deep to a new topic.
Actor Dax Shepard of Parenthood fame also fancies himself a bit of an armchair expert. So when he brings the real experts on the air, the conversation explodes comparing what the general population might think and what expertise actually brings to the table. He does interview fellow celebrities, but some of the episodes that have really pulled me in are ones with incredible guests like award-winning author Isabel Wilkerson.
I don’t always agree with his understanding of certain topics, but I like how he’s very open to being wrong and always brings a lot of love and joy to each conversation. His producer, Monica Padman, keeps him humble by fact-checking him at the end of each episode. Wouldn’t it be great if we could fact check everyone in life?
5. Code Switch
For learning about what it is like to live between cultures.
As a South Asian American, I have been code-switching since birth. So, I figured I didn’t need to listen to it, because duh, I was already an expert. I started with an episode about the role Dora the Explorer had in Latinx representation in the U.S., and I haven’t looked back. The hosts, Shereen Marisol Meraji and Gene Demby, are charming, funny, honest, and heartbreaking while they take journalistic dives into all the different cultures hidden under the label of being “American.”
6. On Being
To remind yourself of the beauty in living.
Host Krista Tippett defied my expectations of yet another interview show by curating an eclectic and thought-provoking list of guests tackling different aspects of what it is to be alive. She gently and relentlessly reminds you that being human is so much more than earning a paycheck. Her guests have included musicians such as Craig Minowa, poets like Mary Oliver, and healers like Resmaa Menakem. This podcast is a good reminder that life is larger than the next news cycle and in order to really create a better world, we have to start listening to each other more deeply.
7. 2nd Story
For when you want to feel connected to community.
OK, I may be a little biased here as I have been an ensemble member of 2nd Story since 2015 or so, but what 2nd Story does is always life-affirming. Based in Chicago, they take people from all walks of life and have them work with a team to tell a true story of theirs. Now up to 200 stories, episodes range in heaviness and topics, like when Lauren Sivak got out of a ticket by using an onion ring as evidence to when Earliana McLaurin tells about the time that she knew something was wrong with a classmate but didn’t act and had to live with the devastating consequences. Whatever you’re feeling, 2nd Story has a story for that. It’s a humbling and timely reminder of the pain that comes with living and the laughter that comes with surviving.
Read More: 8 Podcast Episodes to Lift You Up Right Now